Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Job Is A Job Is A Job

Susan Demas at MLive has an issue with the "right wing economic argument" that government cannot create jobs. She then goes on to blame, in part, the sluggish economic recovery in Michigan on shrinking government employment even though she'd like us to think that this blame is being cast by a respected University of Michigan economist.

I think we could use a little context here.

Knee-jerk conservative Bible thumpers do believe that government can create millions of specific jobs. How many people are employed by our postal service so that my Mom can receive 18 pieces of junk mail a day (all posted at a bulk discount rate) while that legendary arm of government operates at a mere loss of about $15 billion per year? Those are jobs, aren't they?

Not to put too fine a point on it all, but the worker's paradise of the Soviet Union used to pride itself on almost 100 percent employment. Among those employed were countless citizens entrusted in keeping its railroad tracks nice and shiny. It was a good gig, but then again, stooped over Soviet rail shiners were often envious of straight-backed American road workers who could make a decent living while leaning on a shovel. Weren't those jobs too?

(Sadly, the Soviet track shiners lost their gainful employment when the USSR stumbled off its mountain of debt--one that is miniscule in comparison to the peaks being created by America today.)

But I digress.

No, the conservative argument is not that government cannot create specific jobs. The argument is that it does not create net jobs in a free market economy, and that government created jobs, while sometimes worth the cost, are not ultimately stimulative or wealth producing.

Yes, this does include most jobs even conservatives feel are necessary, such as military personnel, police, firefighters, prison guards, and many college professors today teaching pretty much anything other than women's studies and ethics in journalism. These sorts of jobs, those that fall legitimately within an accurate scope of government concern, while costing net jobs and not being stimulative in the aggregate, are very much worth the cost.

But why would Demas bother trying to present an accurate representation of conservative economic policy when her abridged version fits the Democrat and media stereotype (redundant, I know) of gun toting, Bible thumping, knuckle-dragging, immigrant hating, elderly killing conservatives so much better? (It's early Monday morning and I tire of thinking of adjectives...)

Says Dumas about recent economic data suggesting that the Michigan economy is recovering:

But one fact got buried in the flurry of economic data. While Michigan added 63,500 jobs in 2011, it could have been more.

Why? Well, the private sector grew, as University of Michigan economists reported. There were 77,500 private-sector jobs added. But the overall number of jobs added was brought down by the decline in government sector jobs.

And that's one reason why Michigan's economic recovery hasn't been as robust as downturns past.

"It's been brought down because government jobs are declining," economist George Fulton.
But what is the U-M economist Fulton actually referring to?

What is the "it" that has been brought down?

Is "it" the number of jobs added, or is "it" the economic recovery?

Is Fulton actually saying what Demas wants her casual readers to believe he is saying (that government layoffs are slowing the recovery,) or is he saying that the total number of jobs added has been "brought down" because of a decline in government employment, a statement not at all inconsistent with conservative economic theory or, for that matter, simple mathematics?

Who knows?

What we do know is that Susan Demas is a columnist that plays with words and contexts like an experienced magician works a masterful shell game. A snippet of comment here, a bit of editorializing there, and after a few deceptive swings and swoops you find an economist who appears to be standing in league with the absurd while firmly positioned against the mischaracterized.

It too is not a bad gig if you can get it. At least it beats polishing railroad tracks.

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